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A researcher’s roll through the microfilm

Think newspapers did a better job with spelling, punctuation and grammar in the old days? Read on.

About six months back, I was scanning newspaper microfilm covering the World War II era when I spotted a story that demanded a read. I can’t recall the topic right now, but I perused the story to the place it continued from one page to inside the newspaper.
When I turned inside the newspaper, the story’s jump did not appear where it should have been. In fact, it was not anywhere in the newspaper.
This was another case, I thought, of typos, lack of precision and other mistakes that riddled newspapers of that day.
Some well-meaning readers have the nostalgic — but misguided — view that the demise of proofreaders about 20 years ago led to the introduction of plentiful grammatical miscues and other errors into newspapers. Just roll through microfilmed newspapers from the 1800s and 1900s sometime, and you’ll see my point.
Simply put, improved technology aids precision, according to academic studies. The clunky linotypes of old meant more errors and made correcting such mistakes more difficult than in computerized newsrooms today.
We received a particularly caustic letter the other day from a reader who did not mean well. She pointed to our problems with “grammer.”
After pondering such letters for years, it seems that the readers who are most dissatisfied with the newspaper’s grammar introduce the most errors into their own critiques.
Perhaps their anger clouds their precision.
Having said this, readers might be surprised how seriously our journalists take critiques from readers.
And your anger means you care. Nothing is worse than apathy.
So, keep those e-mails, cards and letters about our errors coming.
But please don’t yearn for your “error-free” newspaper of yore.
Related post: Martin Library leaves microfilm behind.